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

Written evidence from North West Transport Roundtable (ARSS 53)


We welcome the abolition of the current regional housebuilding targets which have no upper limit but would like to see a holistic, strategic approach to and fair distribution of housing figures.

If incentives (financial or otherwise) are to be given for building new houses, they should only be awarded to those communities/ LAs which meet certain sustainability criteria (see bullet points).

Local Enterprise Partnerships should have serving on them a fair representation of SEEPs—social, economic and environmental partners.

All data should be widely available to all interested parties, not just local authorities.


Who we are, why we were established and our principal way of influencing policy

The North West Transport Roundtable operates under the auspices of the Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT). We are an umbrella body that promotes sustainable transport, healthier lives and low carbon lifestyles.

The regional roundtables were established shortly after Regional Assemblies came into being to represent the opinions of organisations and individuals which believe in sustainable transport and to try to bring about more environmentally friendly transport and planning policies at the regional and sub-regional level. Their primary method of achieving this (and it has met with some success) has been through engagement with the Regional Spatial Strategy process, although NW TAR has also had a lot of involvement with the eight individual Local Transport Plans in the region, taken part in numerous national, regional and sub regional consultations and served on a number of regional and sub-regional bodies. Many of our recent outputs are viewable/downloadable from our website: www.nwtar.org.uk.

The representation we have been afforded under regional working

The North West Transport Roundtable (NW TAR) is a member of North West Environment Link (NWEL) and Voluntary Sector North West (VSNW). Through both channels, we have had a voice via the Social, Environmental and Economic Partners (SEEPs), under the regional working arrangements that have just been disassembled. This has been much valued, not only by us but by elected members and officers of regional agencies and local authorities alike. We are well known to and well regarded by Government Office for the North West.

Implication of the abolition of regional house building targets

NW TAR accepts there is a need for more affordable housing to be built but it believes that the open-ended approach to housebuilding imposed by central government following the last RSS process was unsustainable and, most worryingly, it paid no heed to environmental limits - an issue of considerable concern to the Environment Agency. The panel of inspectors who sat in judgement at the last North West RSS examination in public considered all the evidence placed before it and recommended quite substantial maximum levels of housing. However, the Department for Communities and Local Government were not satisfied that these were adequate and, at the final stage of the process, changed the maximum figures to minimum ones with no ceiling limit.

In our opinion, this was not a well judged approach to adopt—especially as the North West has more brownfield land and more empty homes than any other region - and therefore we welcome the abolition of the present regional housebuilding targets. That said, we can see many advantages in having well researched and justifiable housebuilding figures set at the regional/strategic level as these would ensure a fair distribution and an over-arching view could be taken of environmental capacity in the region.

The likely effectiveness of the government's plan to incentivise local communities to accept new housing development

The government's latest initiative of awarding financial incentives to local communities for building new houses is a very blunt tool to achieve an end. It could badly misfire and result in a reversal of welcome trends in recent years which have seen more emphasis on a sequential approach to land use and particularly to more housing being delivered on brownfield land. This approach has helped to keep 'sprawl' contained and has taken pressure off special landscapes and Green Belt.

The key to successful, holistic housing policies at any level—national, regional, sub-regional or local—lies in obtaining a sound evidence base (which includes an analysis of environmental capacity available and wider consequences such as transport implications) and adopting sequential land use tests. If incentives are to be given to communities/ local authorities, these should be predicated on them delivering sustainable schemes. We suggest that incentives are only given to those local authorities which deliver schemes that:

Adhere to the government's five principles for achieving sustainable development.

Give priority to previously developed land and land with extant transport corridors.

Adopt a sequential land use approach.

Give due consideration to environmental capacity and the proximity principle.

Give due attention to Town and Parish Plans and Village Design Statements where these exist.

Contribute to the government's carbon reduction targets.

Meet level three in terms of environmentally sound design.

The arrangements necessary to achieve co-operation between local planning authorities

NW TAR believes that there is a need for strategic planning because it witnessed for itself through the regional planning processes the way that it brought into line those local authorities which would otherwise have taken a less sustainable approach.

We are aware it has been mooted that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) might take on some transport and/or planning functions. We would refer the CLG Committee to our submission to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee for their inquiry into LEPs in which we emphasised the need for LEPs to have serving on them a fair and equitable representation of SEEPS—social, environmental and economic partners. This formula helped to ensure better balanced Regional Spatial Strategies than would otherwise have been the case. Well balanced policies and decision-making must be fundamental to the new set-up.

The need to share/update data amongst Local Authorities researched/ collated by the Regional Leaders Boards

The data collated Regional Leaders Forums and, before them, Regional Assemblies, was widely disseminated amongst participating partners such as ourselves and most was also available on their websites. Such information should not, in future, only be available to LAs. Otherwise, how can wider stakeholders hold them to account in the way which the "Big Society" envisages?

September 2010

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