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

Written evidence from RIBA (ARSS 20)


The Royal Institute of British Architects champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members. The 40,000-strong professional institute is committed to serving the public interest through good design, and represents 85% of registered architects in the UK as well as a significant number of international members.


The RIBA welcomes the coalition government's focus on local communities and the decision to put them at the heart of planning decisions. However, this must not impact upon the quantity and quality of housing during this critical shortage of housing. The abolition of regional spatial strategies means aspects covered by the strategies such as regional house building targets need to be replaced by new policy initiatives to ensure housing and other essential developments are delivered.

The RIBA's believes that:

The abolition of regional housing targets must be followed up with a rigorous plan to ensure enough homes are built to house the growing number of households across the UK.

The match-funded council tax incentives currently outlined in the New Homes Bonus will not be enough to solve the problem posed by the current severe housing shortage.

Local Enterprise Partnerships will provide a good platform for delivering housing, they should use research, planning and design expertise to deliver the right quantity and quality of homes.

Recommendations for the delivery of new housing through a locally-led system:

Local Enterprise Partnerships should carry out an assessment to identify need and opportunity for (and therefore strategically plan) transport; energy infrastructure; significant housing developments; waste, refuse and recycling; significant economic developments (eg superstores or major retail parks; and flood defences.

Incentives need to be improved upon. To identify need, Strategic Housing Market Assessments should be used to understand, analyse and communicate the definitive demand for housing in each Local Enterprise Partnership or Local Authority.


It is essential to have structures and mechanisms in place which enable the delivery of the infrastructure necessary to support new development and economic growth. The Regional Development Agencies, through their Regional Spatical Strategies, currently play an important role in delivering strategic planning objectives and we believe that alternative methods of delivery need to be established once the RDAs are abolished.. Many local authorities do not currently have the skills or expertise to deliver strategic planning and economic development priorities.[10]


If Local Authorities are to be real leaders in development, they will need to work with a range of partners, including neighbouring Local Authorities. They will need to take a strategic approach to planning policy and ensure the adequate delivery of the housing and infrastructure required to support development.

We believe that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) would seem to be the natural place for strategic planning decisions to reside. At present we are considering that LEPs should carry out an assessment to identify need and opportunity for (and therefore strategically plan) the following:


Energy infrastructure.

Significant housing developments.

Waste, refuse and recycling.

Significant economic developments (eg superstores or major retail parks).

Flood defences.

These are the minimum requirements for LEPs to be useful, and the most appropriate areas to take on critical functions that might otherwise be lost through the abolition of regional development agencies.

Given these minimum requirements, it would make sense for their remit to extend further and take up other elements previously governed at local authority level, in order to facilitate delivery of its economic strategy:

Create a joint Spatial Plan for the authorities involved in the LEP, covering the issues listed above.

Pool some local authorities' planning resource to deal more efficiently with those economically and socially important schemes.

Run Design Reviews[11] which review those significant schemes (using national planning guidance, and local authority guidance specific to that location).

Have a single design guide aligning local authority design criteria and policy, to relate to the types of development listed above.


A local community needs to have a say in how their neighbourhood is built and developed. We also need to ensure that the UK is building enough homes. The RIBA recommends that either Local Authorities or at a "larger than local" level Local Enterprise Partnerships all undertake a Strategic Housing Market Assessment to inform on what the local community needs. The Assessment could include a consultation exercise, as a method of collecting input from local residents, and its results should also be widely communicated to evidence and demonstrate why house building is needed.

The Assessment should include:

Community consultation.

Local house price analysis over time.

The number of homes built annually over time.

An account of social housing waiting lists (how they have grown or declined over time, and analysis of households and compositions).

An account of intermediate housing applicants (as above).

Local migration patterns analysed against economic development and house prices.

The Strategic Housing Market Assessments would demonstrate the local housing need in an area, rather than relying on unsubstantiated top-down targets, and would help make LEPs make sound, well-evidenced decisions about what homes need to be built and of what type, to suit local households.


Seeking to increase the quantity of housing being delivered should not come at the cost of quality.

Regional Design Review panels, currently funded by the RDAs, operate across most regions. They assess large schemes and have played an important role in maintaining the standard of significant new developments and ensuring that design considerations are taken into account pre-application. The abolition of the RDAs will mean that the future funding of these panels is uncertain.

We suggest that design review should continue to be conducted. This could be provided at a LEP level or, as it does already in many areas, at a Local Authority level.

September 2010

10   For example, a recent Training in Development Econics report sponsored by a number of bodies including the CLG, HCA, RTPI and RICS, concluded that planners and councillors need more training in the economics of the development process. Back

11   A panel of professionals including architects, landscape architects and others to assess design quality of proposed schemes to support the Local Authority, the applicant and the architects to get the best scheme for the area. Back

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Prepared 31 March 2011